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What Is Ophthalmology Medical Sales And Marketing With Zack Ballinger

Posted on July 12, 2023

If you’ve ever pondered venturing into a distinctive space within medical sales or explored different specialties, this episode is a must-listen. In this episode of the Medical Sales podcast, we delve into the dynamic world of ophthalmology medical sales. Our host, Samuel Adenyika, sits down with the Zack Ballinger, a marketing director with extensive experience in the pharmaceutical industry and an impressive journey into the specialized field of ophthalmology. Discover the untapped potential and exciting opportunities that ophthalmology offers aspiring professionals and seasoned individuals alike. Zack shares his invaluable insights, providing a unique perspective on working alongside ophthalmologists and the immense growth prospects within this thriving industry. Zack reveals why ophthalmology can be a welcoming environment for those starting out, making it an enticing option for anyone seeking a fulfilling career in medical sales. If you’ve ever envisioned yourself thriving in the realm of ophthalmology, this episode will leave you with a burning desire to pursue your dreams.

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What Is Ophthalmology Medical Sales And Marketing With Zack Ballinger

In this episode, we have with us another special guest. His name is Zack Ballinger. Zack is in the ophthalmology space. He had his beginnings in the pharma industry and ophthalmology space. That is the space that I have not had on this show yet so I’m excited to bring Zack to talk about it. It’s going to be a treat for all of you that might be wanting to get into a unique space within medical sales. For those of you that are in medical sales that have thought about different specialties, this is an episode you want to read. As always, we do our best to bring you innovative guests that bring you an insight into the medical sales industry. Thank you for reading the show. I hope you enjoy this interview.

Zack, how are we doing?

Samuel, how are you?

No complaints. Why don’t you tell the audience who you are and what you do?

I work for an ophthalmology pharmaceutical company. I also am an author and a speaker. I also do the same thing you do. I run a podcast.

Let’s talk about that. Ophthalmology. That’s a space that I haven’t had much on the show so I’m excited to have you on the show. Why don’t you tell everybody exactly what ophthalmology medical sales is?

It’s eye care specialists. There are a lot of different components of the eye but that’s what makes it unique. We think of the eye as being small but there are a lot of salesforces out there. You think about glaucoma. There’s a retina so that’s the back of the eye and the anterior chamber, cataracts. There are contact lenses and equipment sales. There’s multifold. Also, pharmaceutical products. Anything you can think of in primary care or other specialty fields, there are a lot of careers in ophthalmology that maybe we don’t know about or haven’t heard of just because we don’t know the anatomy of the eye but there are plenty of different opportunities out there.

With ophthalmology, that is a specialty type of sales. Is general pharma expecting the career track to get into an ophthalmology role? Can you be someone from a different industry or new to the workforce and get into an ophthalmology role?

Typically, if we’re talking about a pharmaceutical sales physician, a medical device or you’re going into the OR to sell cataracts to physicians, they do want you to have sales experience. That’s a pharmaceutical background, a medical device background or a hospital background. It’s more of a specialty position so there’s primary care, which are your general HCPs. Typically, they’re looking for you to have some type of experience within any particular role. It doesn’t just have to be ophthalmology. There are certain companies that would like and require you to have ophthalmology sales experience but there are plenty of them out there that do not. You can get your foot in the door with them.

MSP 145 | Ophthalmology Medical Sales

Ophthalmology Medical Sales: There are certain companies that would like and require you to have ophthalmology sales experience, but there is plenty of them out there that do not, and you can get your foot in the door with them.


Every specialist has traits that make them a little bit unique. When it comes to ophthalmologists, what’s the typical setup? Very busy and little time or more time than usual? Private practice mostly or medical groups? Give us a little background on the make of the ophthalmologist.

Ophthalmology is similar to dermatology. It’s a wonderful specialty to call on. There’s not that many reps. They typically do love to talk to industry colleagues. There’s a lot of partnership behind the scenes, whether it’s medical trials, clinical trials or maybe even support of their conferences. They’re a very conference-oriented group. There’s a conference every week involving ophthalmology or some type of that. They’re both community-based and academic institutions. They love to talk to reps and learn about new products. They’re very business-oriented as well.

If something can help their practice, not only for their patients but also a way to grow their practice, they’re interested in speaking with you. They love to teach. That’s what I love about ophthalmologists. If you want to spend a day with them at a clinical preceptorship, they’re more than happy to. You don’t even have to know them that well. Let’s say you’re a pharmaceutical rep. A lot of them will invite you into surgery to teach you their surgical techniques and everything about the eye. They love to teach. That’s why I enjoy talking to them because I’ve always loved to learn from teachers and they have that passion.

Let’s take it back then to why you got into the ophthalmology space. Take us back to college. Was it you knew about the medical sales rep space and that was your destiny? Is it something you stumbled on? What was happening coming out of college?

No. I had no idea what I wanted to do in college. I didn’t even know what I wanted to do in college when I finished my degree. I stumbled through different business functions. I tried accounting. I took one class and was like, “No way I’ll pass through logistics.” There were a lot of different functions. Finally, the last one was marketing.

That’s what I got my degree in at the University of Tennessee. To be honest with you, I got into the industry for the money. That was the main reason. It took me 250 job interviews with over 50 companies before I landed my pharmaceutical job. I probably should have met you a little bit sooner. You can help me do that.

I love doing sales but I wanted to evolve my career and use my strengths, talents and passions. I often call my strengths and talents my passions. It’s what you’re good at and what you like to do. You mesh them and then fold that into a career. Although I did love the selling aspect of it, I fell into it for financial reasons. Now, I’m here and I love what I do.

You fell into it. How many years out of college did you fall into ophthalmology?

It took me a year to get into the pharmaceutical industry. I did business-to-business sales. I sold grass seed for a year. I then got into the industry and went through multiple specialties. I started in primary care. I was blessed to do 50% primary care and 50% specialty for 2 years. That launched me into another primary care physician and specialty. I did a lot before I even got to ophthalmology. I was in the industry probably about 10 to 12 years before I even started in Ophthalmic.

What happened though? Did you say, “Now that I’ve had this experience, I’m going to go for an ophthalmology role?” Did someone come to you? Did you find something like a drug or a device that you said, “I want to get behind that?” What made you say ophthalmology? There are a lot of options out there. Why that one?

It was a relocation for me. I wanted to get to Atlanta, Georgia and live in a little bit bigger city. I was in Knoxville, Tennessee at the time looking around at other opportunities. What I do when I go for a job and especially in pharmaceutical sales, I want to interview the customers. That involves me taking some money out of my pocket, bringing some cookies to offices and talking to physicians. I went to about five different offices and networked my way into those.

I met a colleague that used to be a Bausch + Lomb rep. He took me to talk to some of these ophthalmologists right in the city. I got to interview them. I talked to them about the products that I would be selling. “What are the advantages and disadvantages?” I wrote all that down. By the end of the day, I was excited about the opportunity.

Not only does it prepare you for the job interview but it either says, “Do I want to do this?” After I spent some time with an ophthalmologist and the staff, I wanted to do it and go into that sales role. That information is valuable to the interviewer. They look at that like, “You did all this on your own?” It sets you apart from other competition.

Something happened that took you into marketing. Was it a moment? Was your eye set on it from the beginning? Did somebody bring it to your attention? Give us a story there.

I started to get burnout in sales. As we get older or things happen, we learn what we’re good at in our careers. We learn our weaknesses too. I had been doing sales for a long time and I was ready for the next moment. A different company had an opening and knew some people that were going over there. It would be a new role, a marketing role or a developmental role. Everything that lined up when you looked at the job description fit my skillset. That’s what made me attracted to it. I wanted to make sure of the job description.

As we get older, we learn what we're good at in our career, and we learn our weaknesses too. Click To Tweet

I knew the hiring manager because when we’re doing networking, it is the most important aspect. I was able to have honest conversations with her about the role. “What would I be doing exactly? How could my strengths help the team? What would be some of the challenges for me coming in being only an account manager with sales experience? What could I bring to the table?” That’s what ended up happening. A role became open. I aligned it and made the move.

When you were thinking through that, what did you conclude as far as bringing to the table, being in sales and bringing your expertise to marketing?

What I could bring coming from the sales and account manager side is a customer perspective. A lot of times what happens and it happens to me too is when you start working on brand, strategy and tactics, you get to high-level stuff and you’re talking about that, you often lose sometimes the position connection. Salespeople are on the ground. They’re the ones that keep the lights on for the company.

I was close to the customers. I knew the market and position. You have the relationships, networking ability, cold calling skills and communication skills to bring to the table. There’s a lot of perspective and a lot of nuances that I can bring because I talk to those physicians on a daily basis. I can bring back their opinions and ideas right to the marketing team to develop the strategies.

What does your role entail? What were your responsibilities? Paint the picture of what that role looks like.

It’s part of a marketing team. When you think about it, I’m field-based remote so I travel all around the United States. I work with residents and fellows in ophthalmology. Remember that passion for teaching, that’s what I enjoy. I get to teach residents and fellows about our commercialized product. We have one. I also work with key opinion leaders. Key opinion leaders are the top positions in the market that influence everybody else. I work with them. I talk to them about strategies and tactics, what’s good about our product and which patients it helps.

I then funnel all that information and work with my main marketing director. We talk about, “What do we need to do on our branding side? What kind of medical conferences do we need to support?” I run our advisory board so that’s gathering clinic physician feedback to help us with our branding and messaging. We ultimately give the tools, those pieces, materials or videos to the salesforce for promotion. That’s the role in a nutshell.

The role is so fun because I do so many different aspects of it. I might be at an academic institute presenting a product. I love presenting. I talk about our commercial product in front of the whole academic institution. It’s multifold if you love to travel to do field-based marketing. I certainly do love that aspect of it. I don’t sit still very well. This is probably the first time I’ve set still all day so this can align with that.

What I’m curious about is you came up with your value proposition to go from sales to marketing and all the skills that you’re bringing to marketing. You’ve been in marketing and gotten that thorough experience of what it means to be a marketing manager and a marketing director. What’s your insight? What do you see differently? If you were to go back to being a sales rep or if you were to tell a sales rep and give them some advice coming from a marketing perspective, what would you share?

I give that perspective all the time because sales and marketing work hand in hand. We’re providing those tools to our directors so I’m in constant communication with them. I talk to the reps on a daily basis. I do try to help and facilitate them. One of the things that’s taught me in this role and how effective I could be is, remember when I told you that I went into it for the money?

I didn’t focus on patient types when I was a rep. If you pull it back towards the patient, I thought that was always cliche. “Make it about the patient.” If you honestly make it about the patient, you paint the patient picture. You talk about that patient suffering and that potential patient going blind because they don’t get the particular regimen. When you’re talking to the physicians and you put that patient’s perspective in mind in the beginning, that would help you.

Also, leveraging networking. What do we talk about on a daily basis for people to break into the industry and people to get into careers? We talk about networking. It’s the same way in the specialty. These are very small sub-specialty physicians. National KOLs matter. If they’re using your product and they’ve had good patient success, you have to leverage that.

You have to be able to network with those physicians by maybe using a speaker program, peer-to-peer or an expert connect. That’s what I would say. Use your resources. I didn’t always use my resources when I was a rep. I thought, “I know it all. I can talk about what I can do,” but I didn’t always pull those resources into making me the top rep.

I want to go back to the patient types for example. What did you experience as a marketer that made you say, “Now that I’m on this side, I should have been more to my patient types and I want to advise any other reps to pay attention to that more.” What was happening there that made you say that?

Three things. 1) Advisory boards. You talk to the physicians, pull them back behind the curtain and give them concepts or you say, “What about this product? How should we market it? How should we promote it? How should our reps be promoting it?” During those advisory boards, they always pull it back to the patient. These are the patient types you need to work on, you should draw or you should talk about. 2) Design some of these campaigns. I had never worked on interviewing a patient before that had a drug. It’s life-changing.

They talk about their journeys. There was a few years ago when I was working with a particular patient and she talked about being able to not see her grandchildren because she was intimidated by her site. It starts to add up these things and they start to click in your mind. 3) You get out in the community. You start seeing the patients. You’re sitting in that office. They’ve been through these horrible surgeries and all these different therapies that are not working. It clicks in your mind, “This is a product that can help patients.”

Patient types and resources are the two things you would’ve emphasized to your old self if you could talk to your sales rep self.

I would and I never did that. I never utilized my resources to my advantage.

You’ve had a great career and you’ve gotten to get into the heart of ophthalmology and what it means to be an ophthalmology rep. Tell us how you make it all work. Family life, are you a dad? Are you and your wife making life happen? How do you have time? How do you make it all work?

I’m single. I don’t have any kids because I could barely keep alive a plant. I’m gone pretty much 5 to 6 days a week. That’s a sacrifice you make when you are in field marketing and you have the whole United States as your responsibility. You’re talking about a lot of responsibility and juggling a busy schedule. I love my life and that’s what the most important thing is. What do I do to keep it balanced? I always have this motto. “It’s not work-life balance.” I get a lot of pushback for that. It’s work-life passion.

It's not work-life balance. It's work-life passion. Click To Tweet

Do you love what you do? Do you love waking up in the morning? Do you love your Mondays? Are you saying, “God, it’s Monday or Friday?” I want to get out of that mindset. I love living my life. What I do is during these travel things, I’ve gotten to tie in a lot of cool things with it. Maybe taking an extra day out or carving out some time to go visit that museum that I’ve wanted to do and put some adventure in it. When you tie in your skills and passions, they align with your job if you get it right.

Give us a daily routine.

I’m going to give you the same cliché. It changes every day. No day is a different day but typically, let’s go for this. We’re up in the morning. I typically have an early flight out. Usually, you’re up at 5:00 or 6:00. You’re in the airport getting through security. You might go to the sky lounge. You might catch up on some emails with physicians. You’re talking to your other team about strategies. You’re having conference calls. You’re meeting with physicians during the day to talk to them about some of your programs.

Some of the relationships I have, we get together. We have maybe lunch, breakfast or coffee. I may be meeting the fellows that night to be talking about my product. Fellows are typically a two-year rotation in fellowship when they go onto a subspecialty so I might have dinner with them that night. We conclude it and wrap it up. I go back to my hotel room and then it’s back to emails. I make sure my schedule’s right.

It’s a full day. There’s no 9:00 to 5:00 here. You’re going to work whatever hours you can. During that time, there may be physicians that call me and have questions about our product or a speaking program. I feel those calls a day. It could change every day but if we talk about a typical day, that’s probably what it most looks like.

With ophthalmology, you said it’s not 9:00 to 5:00. What should somebody that wants to get into that space expect as far as working hours?

When you talk about surgery, a lot of people that want to get into the career there are interested in the surgery aspect of being in the OR. You should expect to be waking up about 4:30 in the morning because guess what time ophthalmologists start cases? Typically, 6:00 AM to 7:00 AM. If you don’t like getting up early and you don’t like being in the OR, that might not be a career for you because you’re going to be there from 6:00 AM to 2:00 PM.

After you’re done with that, you’re probably going to be making some other calls to physicians during your clinic. Most of your time as a surgical rep will be in the OR so you’re going to have a lot of days like this. You got to be prepared. You have to love and enjoy surgery. If you’re on the pharma side, that typically starts like any other pharmaceutical job. You get up in the morning. You’re going to have a complete day.

MSP 145 | Ophthalmology Medical Sales

Ophthalmology Medical Sales: Most of your time as a surgical rep will be in the OR, so you need to be prepared and you have to actually love and enjoy surgery.


You may spend 2 hours in 1 office because, in ophthalmology, it’s a lot about educating staff on your product, how it gets reimbursed and how it gets paid for. You have to work with technicians. You have to talk to technicians about patient profiles. They have scribes and receptionists. You make the total office call and get to know everybody. They’re in that office all day long. They see the patients when you’re not there. A lot of them will have more interaction with the patient than the physician will. You have to remember that.

I don’t think there’s even a standard answer for the pharmaceutical job. There’s a time that you may have to do a pharmacy call. A pharmacy may start switching out your products for generics and you may have to have a confrontation with them and say, “Dr. So-and-So wants this particular drop or drug. What’s going on here?” There are a lot of factors into it but these jobs are typically not 9:00 to 5:00 jobs.

What last bit of advice, if any, would you like to share with the audience? Remember our audience, people that want to get in, people that are already in and people that are leading the way.

People getting in networking, that’s the key. You have to have a contact and build your network. You must have a LinkedIn. It’s very important to do that. LinkedIn is the future. There are tons of jobs on there. It became one of the number-one postings for jobs. Before you apply, you have to have a contact. Even for people with experience, I tell them all the time, “You can’t just blindly apply.” I interview sales reps. We get 200 applications for 1 job. If we don’t know who these people are, then how are we ever going to pull them to the top of the line?

For somebody that wants to excel in their career, I would think about, “What are you good at? What are your strengths?” Hone in on that. A lot of managers might point out, “This is where you’re weak.” We all know our weaknesses and we can work on them to improve. If you don’t like presenting and you could work on being a better presenter but you still hate it, what’s the sense of it?

Focus on your strength. Maybe your real strength is clinical data. Maybe you have a passion for that. Focus on that and use that clinical strength. The third thing is to use all your resources to your advantage. Make sure you’re maxing out your resources, budgets, lunch money, speaker programs and peer-to-peer influences. Those things can make a difference.

Focus on your strengths and use all your resources to your advantage. Those things can really make a difference. Click To Tweet

It’s time for our lightning round, Zack. Be ready. The best book you’ve read in the last several months.

The last book I read was mine. Don’t Be A Zombie: How to Find a Career You Love.

Best movie or show in the last several months?

Breaking Bad.

Best meal in the last several months?

That’s one of the perks of the job. Probably, San Antonio at a steakhouse but I cannot remember the name of it for the life of me.

You’re killing us. You’re going to tell us that, not give us the name. Best experience in the last several months?

I would say visiting New Mexico and getting to do some hiking and see the Carlsbad Caverns. It was an amazing and beautiful site.

Zack, it was wonderful having you as a guest. Thank you for sharing all those insights regarding ophthalmology. We look to hearing from you and seeing all your future pursuits. Thank you for being on the show.

Thanks for all you do.

That was Zack Ballinger in the ophthalmology space. It’s a very interesting space. I even liked that he had some insight into what it’s like to work with ophthalmologists. Even to know that this is an industry that can be friendly to people that are just starting. It’s an exciting thing to keep in mind and an exciting opportunity. For all of you out there that have been thinking about other roles you want to explore, ophthalmology is a space to consider.

Maybe you’re reading this episode thinking to yourself, “I want to get into an ophthalmology role. I want that to be a part of my future.” If you read these episodes at any time, you already know what I’m going to say. You need to visit EvolveYourSuccess.com and select Attain A Medical Sales Role, submit the application and then have a conversation about our program, the Medical Sales Career Builder. It’s where we can help you get a position within 90 days. We work with medical sales reps, medical sales hiring managers and recruiters. We have a whole program designed to get you to the finish line, get you an offer and get you into a position. Make sure you check it out.

For those of you that are in the industry, you read this and you’re thinking to yourself, “I want to make that kind of transition. It’s been a long time since I’ve ever been in an interview and I’ve even looked at my resume. I don’t even know when I last updated my career portfolio,” visit EvolveYourSuccess.com and also select Attain A Medical Sales Role.

Have a conversation with us. We can help you make that transition if you’re exploring a new space. As always, we do our best to bring you guests that are innovative. They’re doing things a little differently. They’re in unique spaces within medical sales and they have a lot of insight to bring. Make sure you tune in next time for another episode.


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About Zack Ballinger

MSP 145 | Ophthalmology Medical SalesZack Ballinger is a market development director at Eyepoint Pharmaceuticals. He is also an author, podcast host, and motivational speaker on career development topics. On the stage and from his heart, Zack brings a passion for purpose that is infectious and undeniable. As a motivational and TEDx speaker, author, and career consultant, he guides people to self-discovery that changes their lives. Zack holds a bachelor’s degree in marketing from the University of Tennessee. He resides in Atlanta, GA.



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